The question playing on the minds of nervous Coalition MPs is whether Scott Morrison has missed his “Tampa moment”.
Should the embattled Prime Minister have seized the moment of last week’s humiliating government defeat in Parliament to have called an immediate election?
The government’s media cheer leaders are more than happy to make the comparison recalling John Howard’s 2001 opportunistic cynicism in turning the Norwegian mercy ship Tampa into a dangerous invader.
The Liberal prime minister mobilised the special forces, fully armed and clad in menacing black fatigues to board the giant container ship and prevent it from unloading its cargo of human misery – the 433 refugees it had saved from their sinking boat.
A month later the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in Washington reinforced in nervous voters’ minds that what they needed in those fearful times was a tough and even unscrupulous leader.
The two-term prime minister triumphed where for a couple of years he looked like crashing at the election.
But undermining comparisons is Mr Morrison himself. He clearly doesn’t believe that “Bill Shorten and the Labor Party wanted to go and crash border protection in this country” – something he told Radio 2GB.
If the Prime Minister truly believed the amendments to a government bill giving new protocols with greater doctor involvement in the assessing and treatment of sick refugees was an existential threat to the security of the nation, he would have immediately taken it to the people.
But the claims Mr Morrison and his ministers are making are too flimsy to sustain a campaign built around them. The bill merely facilitates sick people in Australia’s care being brought here for treatment they cannot get on Manus Island and Nauru.
And according to the departmental briefing given to Senator Derryn Hinch these patients – whether suspected murderers or rapists or whatever other heinous activities they may have been involved in – will remain detained and sent back.
All other border protections, boat turnbacks and offshore processing remain.
Government morale was certainly boosted by the Ipsos poll that showed a surge in support for the government, bringing it within two points of Labor for an impressive six-point turnaround.
The poll could be an outlier. The next one may confirm a trend, but so far Newspoll and Essential have not picked up similar results.
A YouGov Galaxy poll for the state of Queensland was in the field at the same time as Ipsos – the days immediately after the government’s defeat. This poll in the state thought to be the most opposed to “boat people” found a continuing swing away from the government.
Labor was ahead 52 per cent to 48 per cent. It represents a six-point swing against the LNP since the last election and the potential loss of at least eight seats in Queensland.
Tellingly the same poll in the Courier-Mail found the Liberal National Party to be streets ahead of Labor with a better plan on border security and asylum seekers: 44 per cent to 29 per cent.
This poll then confirms voters are giving other issues higher priority –more likely stagnant wages, the rising cost of living and electricity prices and the instability in the Liberal party that has delivered three prime ministers in five years.
Mr Shorten says the government are “such a cheeky bunch of roosters” telling “lies” about Labor policy.
It has brought “900 people from Manus and Nauru on medical advice” but when Labor proposes to “codify” it, “it is a terrible idea”.
Looks like Mr Morrison doesn’t really and truly believe his own bluster either.